Rafah waiting great 248.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Defense Ministry official Amos Gilad will head to Egypt in the coming days for talks with Intelligence Minister Omar Suleiman to convey Israeli reservations concerning the cease-fire deal Cairo has brokered with Hamas on the Gaza Strip, defense officials said Thursday.
One reservation concerns a report in The Jerusalem Post on Thursday in which an official close to the negotiations said that a clause in the Egyptian-brokered cease-fire, which has already been accepted by Hamas, is the reopening of the Rafah Crossing between Gaza and Egypt according to the 2005 agreement reached by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Based on that agreement, European monitors would deploy at the crossing and assist Palestinian Authority officers from the Presidential Guard - loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas - in running the border terminal.
Senior Israeli defense officials told the Post on Thursday that Israel did not support the immediate reopening of the Rafah Crossing, fearing it would be used by terrorists to enter and leave the Gaza Strip.
In conjunction with the cease-fire talks, Israel is negotiating with Egypt and European Union officials over the possibility of enhancing the mandate of the European monitors at the crossing to enable them to inspect Palestinians crossing through the border terminal.
Another reservation concerns the fate of kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit. Defense officials said Israel would prefer that a Schalit prisoner swap be part of the cease-fire package but recognized the likelihood that a Suleiman visit to Jerusalem and Israel's acceptance of the cease-fire would expedite the soldier's release even in a separate deal.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak was scheduled to hold a series of security assessments with top defense officials from the IDF and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) during the next few days to formulate an official position on the cease-fire deal, the officials said. Israel is also adamantly opposed to Egyptian attempts to link a cease-fire in Gaza to the situation in the West Bank.
Though the United States also has concerns about mediation with Hamas that might elevate its status to the detriment of its rival Fatah and, like Israel, give it time to add to its supply of weapons, America also places a premium on calm ahead of US President George W. Bush's visit to the region on May 13.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is set to arrive Saturday night for a two-day preparatory visit in which the cease-fire will be one of the issues discussed.
The State Department declined to endorse or criticize Egypt's efforts Thursday, focusing instead on the importance of peace negotiations being undertaken by Abbas and the Israeli government.
"In terms of any discussions Egypt may be having with various parties on the situation in Gaza, we would refer you to the government of Egypt," said State Department spokesman David Foley. "We support the efforts of the legitimate Palestinian Authority government under Mahmoud Abbas to negotiate a peace agreement with Israel this year, as President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert committed to do in Annapolis."
Rice's visit will focus on that process, determining where Israel and the Palestinians are in their negotiations ahead of Bush's personal efforts to move the process forward.
With Abbas recovering from an angioplasty procedure in Amman he underwent on Thursday, there will likely be no trilateral Rice-Olmert-Abbas meeting. However, according to diplomatic officials, there may be a three-way meeting with Rice, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and chief PA negotiator Ahmed Qurei.
Likewise, Rice may meet with Defense Minister Ehud Barak and PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad, as she did when she was last here a month ago.
Diplomatic sources said the purpose of Rice's meetings here was to see where the two sides stood, what was being achieved on each of the four separate negotiating tracks, what obstacles existed, and what plans the sides had for moving the process forward.
Meanwhile Thursday, Israel continued to operate in the Gaza Strip. An IAF strike killed a top Hamas terrorist who was involved in Schalit's capture in June 2006.
Nafez Manzur was also involved in the Pessah mega-attack on the Kerem Shalom Crossing during which two cars carrying bombs infiltrated the crossing and detonated inside, the officials said.
In addition, Manzur was involved in planning numerous attacks by Hamas and in firing rockets at Israel, the army added.
Hamas confirmed that a "leading commander" was killed in the strike, and its military wing vowed to avenge his death. "The blood of our late commander will not be shed in vain," the statement read. "We have the full right to respond in the time and place that we see fit."
At the same time, close to 15 Kassam rockets were fired from Gaza into the western Negev area on Thursday. Separate rockets that landed in Sderot hit Sapir College, a house, a grocery store and a sports field, the army said. Five people were treated for shock but there were no serious injuries.